Clutching a Lonely Planet and a badly folded map, it used to be easy to spot the tourist, but in the smartphone era, it’s a little more difficult. Blindly following a map on your phone is, however, also a dead giveaway, so the arrival of wearable tech like the Apple Watch and its burgeoning travel app offerings finally allows us to blend in and go native.
Striding through foreign lands like we were born there, we only need to glance at our trusty Apple Watch to make sure we’re still heading from the hotel to a suitable restaurant and not, in fact, a warzone.
We loaded our Apple Watch with travel apps for a trip to Sweden to identify the ten most helpful wearable guides.
In a foreign city, even the buses are baffling, but CityMapper is so successful at negotiating public transport systems around the world, that it blows most local transit apps away. It even manages to make sense of London’s multifarious tube, train, and bus network with surprising success.
Tap the train symbol at any time, for instance, and the nearest stations will appear on your watch, with live departure times for each one. Alternatively, you can plan a route using the excellent iPhone app; then it’s over to the Watch for on-wrist instructions about where to wait and what to run for.
Only 27 cities are covered so far, but while we wait ages for the next one, several are sure to come along at once.
FREE | Download CityMapper app
Expedia’s inclusive holiday booking service includes almost every airline and hotel around the world and by accruing loyalty points, you tend to get good prices.
You can’t make bookings from the Watch app, but what it will do, is join your itinerary together (if you booked it all through Expedia) and feed important updates, like airport gate changes, right to your wrist.
FREE | Download Expedia app
If your holiday happens to begin with BA, then this app is as essential to your trip as your passport and toothbrush. Thanks to the smartphone app, you could already go paperless by downloading an electronic boarding pass, but extending that functionality to the Watch has obvious advantages.
Instead of juggling a phone with a dying battery as you stand barefoot at security, you can now simply show your shiny Watch to the envious airport staff. It also sends updates regarding delays, gate changes and even a summary of the weather at your destination.
There’s just one problem, the scanners at most check-in desks will not accommodate a whole wrist, so you might have to slip it off, or admit defeat and scan the paper boarding pass you printed just in case.
FREE | Download BA app
Abroad, as at home, taxis are expensive and sometimes a risk, which explains the meteoric rise of Uber. And with the Uber Watch app, calling a cab is as simple as tapping your wrist.
With your hotel address and bank details pre-programmed via your iPhone, the Watch simply uses your GPS location to display shows you an ETA for the nearest Uber car and alerts you when yours arrives.
You can even connect your Spotify account and listen to your own tunes rather than the local equivalent of Heart FM. This app saved us from a 50-person deep taxi line, at Heathrow and cost less than half the price quoted by a cab.
FREE | Download Uber app
There are plenty of apps that point out eateries and ATMs, but Findery relies on the travelling community to post less obvious points of interest. Instead of the usual restaurant chains and landmarks, it could be a piece of graffiti, or a film location that appears on your list of local finds.
You can scroll through them on your watch and get directions to anything of interest. It’s just as easy to post your own discovery, although you’ll need your iPhone to do it.
Like an alternative TripAdvisor, GoGobot allows you to search and book hotels and comes with useful user reviews, but the difference is that they’re tailored to your personal preferences – to some extent.
When you sign up, you choose your interests (history, nightlife etc), so your recommendations are influenced by your ‘tribe’. It successfully filters out some irrelevant suggestions, but we still found that chains like Pizza Express tend to top the lists.
This is an app that will improve as the user base grows.
FREE | Download Gogobot app
They’re the same the world over, but when weary travellers see the ubiquitous green logo, it means shelter, free Wi-Fi and a cup of coffee with no need for local currency, or bank fees. The iPhone app always allowed cashless payment, but the new Watch app makes the exchange even easier.
Simply scanning your Starbucks card in Passbook with a wave of the wrist works in ay language. It also shows you where the nearest outlet is – they’re pretty hard to avoid – and uses Maps to direct you right there. Sure, it’s a generic chain, but also a welcome sight when you’re out of data, or money.
FREE | Download Starbucks app
While the website has proved invaluable for its frank customer reviews of hotels and restaurants, the TripAdvisor Watch app arms you with that crucial information when you’re in the field.
Tap the Restaurants option wherever you are and you’ll see a remarkably comprehensive list of eateries in your area along with their, often brutal, ratings. The Things To Do list proved less reliable for us, but you can also predetermine mustn’t miss sites as Saved Places using an iPhone and get directions to them on your Watch.
FREE | Download TripAdvisor app
TripCase offers a neat way of tying together all of the bookings for any given holiday and presenting you with an itinerary of flight details and reservation numbers. Unlike TripAdvisor, you can’t use TripCase to search, or book, but it will recognise and log all of your flights and hotels, so you can feel fully organised without actually carrying a clipboard.
The Watch app, gives you gentle vibrating reminders of departure times and gives you a countdown. It also makes it easy to share your entire itinerary with fellow travellers, or indeed, the ones you left behind.
FREE | Download TripCase app
If you’re feeling spontaneous (ie. you don’t have the family in tow) this Apple Watch app can locate a nearby hotel that meets your preset requirements and book it in just a couple of a taps and a force touch.
From the makers of Booking.com, and using the same data, it lets you leave your hotel selection to the last minute, when many hotels are discounting. We used our smartphone to scroll through the options and then switched to the Watch to make the booking and follow the app’s Maps directions right to the door.
Your reservation is saved in Passbook so you only need to flash your watch to check in. Use it enough times and you’ll achieve Genius status, which gets you 10% off your next booking.
FREE | Download Booking Now app